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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4283 Members Latest Member: - otto Most online today: 73 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: Get my character out of prison!  (Read 639 times)
Marco
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« on: March 16, 2005, 10:56:11 AM »

I just finished up a game where the characters were in prison. I hadn't planned it that way, it happened like this:

1. I solicited ideas from the group for a game and got one. I refined it and returned it to them. The parameter was, in a nut-shell: "You are a competent and able person--but for some reason when this rich, weird guy wants you in on this plan that begins to seem like a bad idea you'll go along."

So we batted around reasons why characters might "take on a job they thought was a bad idea." The players knew what the job would basically ential: descent into a fairly dangerous dimension to hunt a Snark (as per Lewis Carroll) but didn't know how that would be represented at all or even what the major conflicts of the game would be.

I didn't either.

2. One of the players said her character would be a cat-burgular with extreme skills ... I asked why she'd take the job--and said that she would probably be under some form of "pressure" to do so (although the player would choose the reason and/or the pressure. We suggested things (she needs security plans to a museum she can't get otherwise and has a deep psychological need to hit it? She's in debt to a mobster and needs help? She's in jail and the guy is offering her help there?)

She hit on the last one and liked it! The other player made a female character and agreed to be in prison as well. I went to work on the game.

Both players had characters that I felt could break out of a high-security installation so we discussed that. I told them they had to explain to me (before this could work) why they didn't just break out rather than cooperate with their benefactor.

The catburgular player said her family (high-end security consultants) had designed the prison defenses so they were up to her (elite) standards. The other character was deemed too traumatized by the events that landed her there to organize an escape attempt on her own.

3. The game involved psychotic-episode style descents into the alterante reality with periodic returns to the real world. The players were largely, but not entirely, famiilar with the game world (which we are playtesting for publication) but the mechanism makes the characters sort of "go insane" (in that they are reacting to things and situations others don't percieve--there is no character hijacking mechanic).

Which brings us to the issue: Towards the fifth play session, while talking, I discovered to my surprise that the other player quite didn't like the in-prison parts of the game.

They'd thought the game would quickly move out of the prison and leave it behind.

The player also cited concerns that if the game ended, the character, who was liked, would be left in prison in limbo and that wasn't acceptable.

The game, however, was considered a strong success despite this and the other player (the catburgular player) really did like the prison intrigue scenes her character went through.

[ and for the record, the prison, athough dismal and somewhat threatening was not played for shock or horror value--it wasn't the primary threat to the characters. ]

There's a huge amout to be written about the depth of communication necessary to get everything out in the open (clearly) but both parties (me and the other player) considered it an honest misscommunication (the player even told me that after I'd done a bunch of research on prison life they thought complaining would be bad-form since I'd clearly put some prep-work into it and they really loved the other-dimension stuff).

Conclusion: When the game ended, with the escape of the characters and the destruction of the prison, there was a good deal of discussion about what went right and what went wrong.

The player who didn't like the prison life scenes said that being locked up with a technically competent character (with no tools) was pretty disempowering--and I agreed. The character also had a lot of musical skill which became valuable in the last quarter of the game, but not before then.

The cat-burgular player, on the other hand, said she felt very empowered and was interested in the prison dramas (even though her cat-burgular skills weren't in use there either).

The discussion concluded that empowerment in this case was a feeling by the player that the GM/world would work in concert with them to achieve their goals.

The catburgular player had lots of in-game goals that were well served in the prison (working the rivalry with her family and some of the other inmates) the other player didn't have any strong in-character goals other than escape (which we had agreed wasn't going to happen without assistance).

I think the player-agreement to this was critical to the game being the success it was--if I'd just demanded they make prisoners I think there'd have been resentment. But ultimately, the prison enviroment, although "objectively disempowering" was, in game terms only problematic in relation to the player's goals and perspective.

-Marco
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Valamir
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« Reply #1 on: March 16, 2005, 11:18:07 AM »

Was the disatisfied player disatisfied because he didn't like the prison aspect.  Or because he hadn't bothered to create any good prison based sources of conflict and didn't have much to do on the prison side.
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Marco
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« Reply #2 on: March 16, 2005, 11:30:33 AM »

Quote from: Valamir
Was the disatisfied player disatisfied because he didn't like the prison aspect.  Or because he hadn't bothered to create any good prison based sources of conflict and didn't have much to do on the prison side.

Some of the former.

More of the latter. He said that if he'd realized the game was going to spend as much time as it did there (maybe 30%) he'd have made a different character with more prison-y stuff going on.  I should've asked for prison-based conflicts but I think, unless we figured out what was going on, there (the common misconception) he'd have given me a conflict--but not one that he was really psyched about since he'd think it wasn't gonna be ongoing during the game.

I mean--we might've come across that issue then and there, but I actually did do some stuff about "how are you relating to prison life, what is your rep like, etc." and I got good information--but we didn't figure out he wasn't happy with the game being centered there.

Note however: he doesn't like roleplaying his character being miserable. We discssused this: the catburgular character, although in prison, and facing her smug family members who thought her a disgrace and were using their equally elite skills to keep her there was not miserable in prison and enjoyed the tension. I think it's a matter of personal taste.

-Marco
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JAGS (Just Another Gaming System)
a free, high-quality, universal system at:
http://www.jagsrpg.org
Just Released: JAGS Wonderland
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